There are a number of nations who did well at the European Beach Ultimate Championships. Russia, Great Britain and Sweden all go home with golds in two divisions, while Latvia entered only one division and took home a medal – a nice strike rate. The country which had the best week here in Portimao, though, was undoubtedly Spain. The Spanish entered seven divisions and took home an incredible six medals. Only the mixed team finished out of the medals, and even then, they finished fifth in what was probably the most competitive division here. Spain’s average finishing position was 2.4, the best of any nation at these championships. They made a leap into the next level as a nation, becoming a truly competitive player on the European stage.
Spain has a long history on the beach and has some of the best beach club teams around, but this kind of dominance is new – they didn’t medal in any division at WCBU in 2017 or 2015, nor at what was then called ECBU in 2013. How is it that they’ve improved so much in a short space of time?
The impact of Catalonia
Catalonia is the area of Spain with the highest concentration of teams, and according to Spain men’s masters player Pedro Padilla it’s an area of critical importance for Spanish Ultimate.
“Catalonia is the area with the most beautiful and established projects with secondary schools. Other parts of Spain work with schools and universities but the energy is more sporadic. About 60 or 70 per cent of the men’s and women’s teams here started in schools in Catalonia. They have been working regularly to improve with the schools, and at the start it was maybe something that people thought could help us. Now, we are seeing the results of the energy that was put in seven or eight years ago. Some of these players, like Aina Perez, are the future for the national teams.”
The man responsible for igniting the spark in the area was Oriol Santana, who moved to Catalonia from the Canary Islands and started a project with players from Peixets to develop the sport in the area. Now that it has been going for some time, Pedro explains, it is self-fulfilling, with the younger players taking an active role in keeping the development going.
Beach is free
Another reason for their success here is that most Spanish Ultimate players play on beach as much as, if not more than, on grass. The reason is simple; money.
“The beach is free,” says Pedro. “It’s difficult to get grass fields in Spain. If you want to get artificial grass it’s harder on the joints. The clubs don’t have the money to pay for the fields, every week €80 for two hours. A lot of the players are students so it’s not possible.”
As a result, much of the development of players is done on beach, so players become comfortable there. “Beach is where we feel comfortable,” adds Pedro’s teammate Javi Perez. Both also say that the Spanish federation has been doing good work in recent years by putting energy into developing the sport and securing sponsorship for kit. “This is the first time that I have received the kit for free. This is a big step I think, because young people do not have the money for all the new kit. Everything like this helps.”
The influence of the Canaries
Another area rich in Ultimate history in Spain is the Canary Islands, where the sport started in the country when a resident of Gran Canaria brought back some discs from a holiday to California after seeing people play there.
“At the beginning, there were four teams in Spain and three in the Canary Islands,” says Pedro when emphasising how important the region has been for Ultimate in his country. Guayota, a team based in Tenerife, is the best men’s team in Spain and has recently caused some waves in European Ultimate too. Work done with young people at the University of La Laguna led to many players who have gone on to play for national teams.
“The Canary Islands have had a big influence. Every team here has some Canary Islands players in it, two or three or four. They are the best teams on sand.”
Finally, Pedro points to the ability for Ultimate to help people focus on something to help them in their lives.
“Ultimate can be a tool to focus,” he says. “Sometimes people are lost in life and are looking for a different thing, a different sport to football with respect and beauty. Ultimate is different.”
He’s confident that Spain can continue on this path.
“For sure Spain will continue to improve. I was speaking to Ru Veitl [German mixed coach] about Spain, and he said next time that there is a beach championships Spain will be in the top two. A lot of young players played in the finals here. We lost all of the finals other than the masters, but the finals is another thing, a different psychology. The players will learn from this. I am sure that Spain will be there in the future.”
Javi adds that Spain has been developing in a similar way to Russia over the last 10 years, and that this development has all been aimed towards getting the nation to a more competitive level. “It’s important for Spain to be competitive, but it’s also important for the sport to develop. The nation is growing and players have seen we can make it all the way to the top. There is a lot more motivation for the next years to keep this project going.”
Pedro has belief that the processes put in place in the last decade will lead to a bright future for Ultimate in his country, particularly with the abilities of the young players who gained vital seasoning and motivation here in Portimao.
“I believe in them,” he says. “They are going to be at the top.”
Feature photo by Illia Shypunov